Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hamster Wheels Are Not Yet Stories

A favored stimulus/response mechanism for you comes at times when you receivev editorial  notes on something you've written.  The backstory to this revelation resides in your belief that you've gone through a manuscript enough times to have caught tie anomalies, inelegance, and, to be severe in your bluntness, the manuscript contains your belief that any ambiguity or question raised in your text is intentional.  There--you've said it.  The ambiguity is a part of a desired effect.

Those are your intentions.  Now, as you skim through editor notes, your eye will catch a suggestion for another example or a wish for some attribution.  So far, nothing out of the ordinary.  Nothing is out of the ordinary until you come to the kind of query or suggestion that turns you into the equivalent of Lance Armstrong, shooting up some enhancement substance.  How, you wonder through the rising cholers and blood pressure, can that not be clear?  You read the query again, then the indicated text.  Sure enough.  The editorial query was justified.  You could have been clearer, pellucid, if you will.

Such discoveries are at the top of your pleasure-of-discovery list.  Some day, perhaps, you will deliver a manuscript of the sort you deliver when you are the editor, not the writer.  Yet, perhaps not.  No matter, that is, no matter if you go over the material to the point where you can no longer see the needful detail calling out its woeful lack of specificity.

You enjoy the feel of a clean page, one where the narrative thrust seems to take you by the hand, then lead you through the loops and whorls of the fingerprints of logic, building an effect with fact and cadence and voice, leading to the fewest possible conclusions.  There is a sense of satisfaction, of you having cleared your metaphorical throat of ahems and er and um, taken a sip of water or coffee, then gone on to seek out all your habit words, those words such as and, thus, accordingly, and seeming to, or, worse yet, the adverbial seemingly.

At one time, years back the discovery of such things was occasion for discouragement.  Would you ever find your way to clean pages? Would your manuscripts stir in copyeditors and fact checkers the sense of, oh, oh, here comes himself, better watch out.  

Times have changed.  Of course you hope to turn in clear, clean copy,  Of course your focus on such activity enhances your eye for catching such things, possibly even catching them before you have the chance to set them down.  But now, the fact of another pair of eyes, looking as well to have your back, is a call to the battle cry of watching things to a closer degree yet.

Since you began making these specific notes, another opportunity presents itself to you.  What, after all, are such notes for if they are not to be gone over?  Gone over for what?  Gone over, for one thing, an accelerated sense of logic in development.  Although the gloves are off when it comes to riffing and you find yourself seduced away from your main purpose because of a memory you have triggered or because of an unseen connection among disparate concepts, you look for ways to more direct, effective transitions.  You look for potential building of themes and your hopes of resolving them to some degree by the last paragraph.

You look also for repetition of thematic material, not from a standpoint that repetition is fatal or even a flaw, rather as a way of keeping pace with subjects of consistent importance to you.  Two such repetitions here within these blog paragraphs are risk and consequences.  You're pretty consistent in your regard for them, welcoming them to the table whenever they appear.

In what may be the most significant theme of all, story intrigues you the most.  This is so because of the significant number of times a narrative comes rushing out of you, impressing you with its urgency to be told, but impressing you with every bit as emphatic a sense that it has emerged not yet story.  This awareness used to effect you with the same sense of dismay that you were doomed to produce dirty copy.  You call yourself a story writer, yet you cannot always see how some of your narratives are something less at the moment.

Setting things aside is an important key.  The first things you look for on return to an early draft project or random notes or these blog paragraphs are the sources of energy and interest.  Thus another exciting discovery, a few paragraphs of dialogue between two or more characters, clashes you set down in some flurry of enthusiasm.

Does the enthusiasm still flutter?  Does it call out to you, give us the next step?  Get us off this hamster wheel on which you have left us.  Call off your daily routines.  Listen to us.  Listen.

If not, what can be done

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Picnic

Because of events in your fourth, fifth, and sixth grade years relative to your handwriting, thereafter referred to as your penmanship, you now have at least twenty-five fountain pens, one of which is almost certain to be with you on most of your ventures out of 409 East Sola Street.

Because of events leading up to your ardent wish for a pocket knife, your subsequent acquisition of one as a birthday present on your sixth birthday, and the subsequent fate of that particular pocket knife, you have any number of pocket knives.  Once again, you are not given to hyperbole with the observation that at any time, there is a likelihood of a pocket knife being in your pocket on even so insignificant a venture outside 409 East Sola Street as the long driveway, where the Sunday edition of The New York Times awaits you.

In a small sense, going forth with a writing implement and a pocket knife can be seen as gestures of rebellion, or assertions of your sense of grown-up-ness.  In another sense, prior to your years of classroom issues with your penmanship, there was sure to be at least one stub of a number two Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil in your pocket, along with some form of notebook in which to write things.  In those pre-penmanship days, you were able to decipher your handwriting without much difficulty.

The penmanship issues were in large part a result of you being moved from California to the east, where school desks had actual inkwells, filled  at least once a week with what has become your least favored color of ink, midnight blue.

Of course the third element in the toolkit equation is the notebook.  You have many of these scattered about.  One or more of them find their way into a jacket pocket.  Many of them have notations in your favored color of ink, a tint resembling rich dark espresso coffee muddled with frothy cream, thus a shade of brown.  

Notebooks these days have matters of greater consequence, not the least of which is your University ID number, which allows you to long onto the University Internet.

With so many pens, knives, and notebooks, a certain aspect of misplacement, searching, and outright loss are inevitable.  Sometimes, in the crease of your reading chair, or in the pocket of a jacket you haven't worn for some time, you will find a pen or a knife or notebook you'd presumed lost.  You greet it expansively, promising to take better regard of it, recognizing its importance and, at the same time, its vulnerability.

One such pocket knife went the way of the original one, this more modern version bought for a specific purpose, every bit as dear to you as fountain pens, notebooks, and pocket knives.  This was a Laguoile, small enough and thin enough to be a pocket knife, but with a long enough blade to essay such things as a melon, the long, pointy loaves of French bread, undoubtedly a salami or summer sausage, and without question, thin leaves from a round or brick of cheese.  Your Laguoile, unlike the one pictured here, also had a corkscrew, in the event that a bottle of wine should require its assistance.  


This was to be used only for picnics.  Picnics deserve an essay of their own; they are representatives of rituals vital to human survival.  Talk of the need for survival suggests itself when, as the English poet, Wordsworth said, "The world is too much with us, late and soon."

The picnic is vital for your own sense of place, which means your need to arrange a picnic suitable for one human and one dog, then find the proper place for both.  Champagne, a chilled Gewurtztramanier. Folle Blanche, or Pouilly Fuisse or, a cold pale Sierra Nevada ale for you, sufficient water for Sally.  The Italian Market on De la Guerra was an excellent place to begin.  Perhaps a stop at Gelson's Market or the Tri-counties Produce for pears or melons.  The Xanadu or Our Daily Bread for the ficelle, and cheese according to the whim of the moment.  Surely olives.  Perhaps a fresh cucumber or a cucumber brined just long enough to have made the transition to pickle without giving up its crispness.

There are picnics for two humans as well, and of course there are picnics for large groups of humans, each picnic an answer to a specific need or situation.

With picnics in mind, you've been looking at the advisability of another Lagouile, this time without the corkscrew because you already have at the ready a combination bottle opener, corkscrew, and knife to cut the seal of a bottle of champagne or rascally white.  And you know it is effective for cutting a cantaloupe and an avocado.

There are many splendid places in memory for a picnic.  Among your favorite, where you and Sally often went, was a spot about half way up Deer Creek, off the Pacific Coast Highway at the southern end of Ventura County.  Sometimes, after your meal, you'd sit at the edge of  one of the ocean-facing ledges, watching the tides, aware Sally was getting added scents of deer, perhaps coyote or bobcat.

Perhaps, with some coffee from a thermos, the notebook and pen would come forth for some observation.  In any case, the occasion was the dream of your earlier years come true:  an adventure, a celebration, a sense of being somewhere in the midst of flying, crawling, scurrying life, the dance of tides, and the textures of your most favorite of all meals, the picnic.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Taxi! Taxi! Idea! Idea!

At the earliest time of your path to the present, you regarded reading the way you regarded marshmallows, a chewy, delightful envelope into which you could lose yourself.  Story was a highway to sensual, imaginative adventures.

Then, for a time, reading had yet another meaning, adding to its luster.  When you were not looking for adventure and transportation as such, you sought information about the places and activities so plentiful in the stories you experienced.

Things do change.  In a university, things are apt to undergo vigorous change.  Your reading for pleasure bounded ahead of you, a gazelle or cheetah, stretching its limbs as new authors, newer types of adventures, and newer reasons for them came into your reach.  Although at first stunned by the enormity and extensiveness of its collection, the library presented another aspect of reading and information, the fact that much of story and information also served as propaganda, more often than not for causes of which you were woeful in your ignorance.

This recognition alone set you off on a venture much like the venture of having an animal in your life; it cannot have an ending you will consider happy.  And yet, as it is with your past and present animal friends, the ventures in search of information and their meaning and implications will continue.

With some time spent analyzing and seeking out propaganda, you were able in unanticipated ways to get back to reading for the adventure of story.  But now, you read for the discovery of process rather than dramatic outcome.  Not that you have objections to dramatic outcome; in fact, you insist on it, but you also insist on knowing why.

Your quest, even before you became aware of it, has been for process, the way writers you greatly admire and a number of those for whom you have little;e affection employ process to achieve storytelling goals.

By your standards, process is a series of steps to take on a multiplicity of impressions, ideas, and concepts, then distill them into a recognizable outcome.  This description could work for sausage as well as for story or for general narrative.

Process forced you to think beyond what you once considered egocentrism to the investigation of the steps by which you are able to connect seemingly disparate concepts, then fuse them into a readable narrative where logic, order, and plausibility are present along with details which may have no rational basis and are, thus, emblematic of the human condition.

For you, process is an attempt at understanding what story means to you, how its salient elements are recognized, selected, then assigned a work station.  This is not an easy vision.  Your process is the equivalent of your fingerprint; it should reflect your strengths, biases, weaknesses, ignorance.

You've required considerable time, extensive reading, baskets full of crumpled pages, tossed aside in the frustration of not having articulated the process of a particular work.  Indeed, part of your process is to suppose each thing worth working on to have its own process, your goal being to find it, translate it, then work it so that it becomes as near instinct for you as possible.

In a large and cosmic sense, your process is to become attracted to the fireflies of concept, which you attempt to assemble into some meaningful through line, all the while growing aware of the inherent paradox.  The closer you come to a thing, the more ignorant you are of its process.

Bottom line, you are attempting to produce enlightened ignorance.  Seeing how a thing works opens another door for you onto a universe in which concepts, ideas, and disparate objects orbit.  About what?  Ah, any year now, you will be narrowing in on the answer to that.

Meanwhile, you have your process, which in its way is the equivalent of trying to hail a taxi in midtown Manhattan during rush hours.  There, across the road, you see it, an unoccupied vehicle.  You wave your hand, call out to it.

Taxi.  Taxi.

Idea.  Idea.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Risks

Even though you have put on enough miles where you can no longer be considered a new model, some of your hard wired features remain much as they were when you began taking the vehicle out of the show room and began driving it about the neighborhood.

Thus your early encounters with risk.

This analogy has come to you from your memories of how your external world began to expand beyond the times when Rule One was the need to have you enjoined from crossing Orange Street unless the crossing were supervised by an adult.  Thus you could, and were able to carry out errands for forgotten grocery items by the simple venture of you on your homemade scooter a half block east on Orange Street to Fairfax Avenue and Weiner's Market, without crossing a street.

Daytime ventures to school at the southeast corner of Fairfax Avenue and Third Street required your promise to take great care crossing the side streets from Orange Street to Third Street, and your unconditional promise to use the underground crossing tunnel to cross the heavily trafficked Fairfax Avenue.

Freedom to cross Orange Street, with an occasional, say one car every ten minutes, traffic pattern was still a major step forward, allowing you direct access to an enormous stretch of empty lot facing Wilshire Boulevard, your equivalent of the ancient Chumash canoeists venturing seaward beyond the point where they could see the coastline.

Because you were given to consider the risks of crossing streets without paying proper attention to oncoming traffic, you were able to see first hand the consequences of remaining entirely in your head.  Your then best friend, Bobby Burdette, crossed Orange Street in such a way as to emerge with a broken leg and, no doubt every bit as painful a reminder, the persistent visiting of the man who was driving the car.

Bobby admitted freely to having his thoughts elsewhere.  You heard the car driver's near daily lament, "I thought he saw me.  He acted just like he was looking right at me."

"Did you see him,"  you asked Bobby one afternoon when the guilt-stricken driver had departed, leaving this time a mocha-colored stuffed giraffe.

"No,"  Bobby said.  "I was thinking about Africa."  He also confessed to not liking the giraffe and wondering if you might like it.

For some time, when crossing Orange Street, you purposefully reminded yourself to look both ways and, just in case, to not think of Africa.  At the time, which was a time well before you became aware of The Heart of Darkness, you found any number of reasons to think of Africa, among them Tarzan and the other comic book hero you and Bobby held in some esteem, Jungle Jim.  You understood why Bobby would want to think of Africa.  You frequently thought of Africa and African adventures with Bobby and by yourself.

One afternoon, with Bobby still in a cast and thus unable to join you for thoughts of Africa, you ventured to the Africa within the enormous expanse of empty lot facing Wilshire Boulevard, whereupon you took a calculated risk of jumping over a large dump of two-by-fours and lath from some construction site, undoubtedly, now that you think about it, arranged into a fire pit for the then equivalent of homeless persons.

You'd had significant experience taking risks in the form of jumping off the roofs of garages on the residential streets, Maryland, Lindenhurst, Drexel, Fifth Street, and their likes.  All these risks with only the soaring senses of forbidden satisfactions from the moment you leaped until the moment you landed in a tumble of giggles in the grassy softness below.

On this day, when you leaped over the  dump of construction woods, perhaps not so much thinking about Africa, although it is possible you were deep within some adventurous fantasy, you missed your estimated landing point, fell on a lath with an exposed nail, which caused quite a gash on your left wrist.  The gash required seven stitches.  Until you began wearing a wrist watch, the scar reminded you in effect not to think of Africa when you were taking risks.

You were not in possession at the time of a recipe for successful risk taking, such as visualizing potential consequences, then weighing them against potential gains.  You did, however, take risks, many of them because you were daring some form of convention or authority.  One risk you often think about as your narrative style for the majority of the blog posts on this site is the risk you took when you were in the ninth grade.  Such a grade and subsequent age level means you were in one of the most unfortunate times and places of that time, John Burroughs Junior High School.  

In fairness, you could just as well have been in Ida M. Fisher Junior High School in Miami Beach, Florida, fearful you would never see Los Angeles again.  You could, except for an accident, have been a student at Le Conte Junior High School, possibly even Audubon.  Junior High School was the problem. Puberty was the problem.  In one class at John Burroughs, you were fortunate enough to have had a teacher who warned against the use of the second person when writing personal essays or fiction.  Liking her, you were not challenging authority; you were taking a risk.  You wrote a long, dramatic essay in the second person, which she held up as a splendid example of how risk could provide an unexpected pathway to discovery.

You sometimes hear Ms. Hummel, suggesting against the use of second person narrative and your delicious sense that you'd see for yourself about that risk.

With some frequency, you hit a delete key or wadding a sheet of paper when you sense a risk has failed.  You nod a polite thanks when the answer to another kind of risk is a "No," or the more emphatic, "No, thank you."  You sometimes do the equivalent of thinking of Africa when you pause to replay some of the risks you've taken or not taken, of the strong, unseen, guiding hand of accident in your life.

In many ways, you are still the newly freed individual who can, whenever he pleases, cross from the north side of Orange Street to the South, the daring young man who streaks to Weiner's Market on his home-made scooter (an eighteen-inch length of two by four, with a wooden fruit box, mounted horizontally at one end.  Steering is accomplished by a broom handle nailed to the top of the fruit box.  The wheels.  Ah, the wheels.  One of your sister's roller skates, unscrewed to form two separate pieces of two wheels each.).  Ah, the times you thought of Africa when you should not have.  Ah, the narrow escapes.  Ah, the risks.

Ah.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rocks

This morning, in your memoir class, an emeritus professor of geology named Bruce withdrew a rock of about the size and shape of a torpedo sandwich from a drawstring bag.  "This rock," he said, " is at least a hundred five million years old."

Funny, you thought, looking at the rock, which seemed to you to look like marble cake, you don't look a hundred five million years old.

Bruce explained some of the dating techniques used on the rock.  He also drew an idiosyncratic map on the blackboard (which was in reality white and thus needed to be written on with a black marking pen rather than white chalk) showing where the rock was when he came into possession of it.  

In the simplest of terms, the rock came from the South Pole, a place you once dreamed about when you were seven or eight, thanks to a boyhood hero worship of Admiral Byrd.  In more recent years, you have received two post cards from the McMurdo Station at the South Pole.  This remote venue seems about as far away from where you are as possibilities would allow.  At any rate, the South Pole seems to you to be limbo with penguins.  The North Pole, although remote in its own way, has no penguins, and is, thus, mere limbo.

When the rock came your way, you hefted it for the sake of a momentary fellowship with something whose origins are so remote, both in time and distance.  There was something moving and humbling about knowing the rock's age; it has weathered well.  You are filled with good natured assurances for it, as it, it does not look a day over a million, or, holding up pretty well there for your age.

You've often attempted to have conversations with rocks, in particular those who, because of their color or shape or porosity or other combinations of characteristics seem to you that most subjective of qualities, attractive.  To that extent, you wish you had Bruce's ability to talk to the rock or, at least, discern some of its secrets.  You believe most rocks you've dealt with in your life are older than you, thus you try to treat them with some respect.  

There are exceptions to this,  You have under many circumstances, used rocks as a missile to either throw at someone or something, or as that most satisfactory of games, a skimming rock, which you throw, sidearm, at a lake.

Your best guess is of at least fifty rocks in and about your apartment that you consider possessions, your rocks, for one reason or another, including two chunks of California jade from The Big Sur, and a few from the tide pools in and about Carpinteria, plus a few on the shelf o the kitchen window, given a place where you will sometimes see them, simply because you like their shape and/or color.

All these, no doubt, are older than you.  When you are no longer their custodian, they will return to being rocks of indeterminate ages, perhaps because of their provenances, kept indoors as possessions.  Otherwise, they will go where old rocks go when they are no longer someone's possession; they will go outside, somewhere, waiting out their destiny as inert matter.  More than one of these rocks has already had life-changing experiences at the hands of humans; how else would they have morphed into the shape and depiction of a sea bird?

You do not need Bruce's access to measuring materials to reckon the effects of age on your face.  Wrinkles and edges will do that for you.  Your face, once smooth, with a tendency to pout, looks now as though some carpenter has had at it with some emery cloth or rough grain sandpaper.

The only time you met, and consumed enormous quantities of beer with, the poet, W.H. Auden, you marveled at his face, which seemed at the time quite admirable to you, like a paper bag of the sort that is twisted about a pint of some fermented liquid, your best hope being for cognac.

Any number of individuals you know who are of an age with you have seen fit to cover portions of their face with some manner of hair, what veterinarians would call facial furnishings.  You make efforts to keep your face clean shaven, not wishing to cover any part of it, wishing instead to present your face as an instrument, capable of registering a broad range of responses of you, in reaction to the events you encounter and the things you see during the warp and weft of the day.

Nor do you need access to age dating when the backs of your hands are brought into the picture.  These, particularly the left, are shot through with liver spots, ranging from barely noticeable to a serious, no-nonsense brown, the size of a raindrop splatter on a windshield.

These backs of your hands were once as pristine as such areas can be.  For whatever quirky reasons, the back of the right hand has fewer splotches, none so aggressive in their liver-color as those on your left hand.

Your lifetime relationship with rocks, small enough to carry about, to propel some distance with the numerous slingshots of your youth, to admire from a distance, and to bring into your life, has been a pleasing friendship.  If your final wishes are followed, you will join some rocks, wherever they happen to be,whereupon you will pass the time with them, awaiting further orders from destiny.

Such speculations bring a sense of order into your ongoing attempts at conversation with elements that speak different languages than you.  For the moment, you have the language you speak and the languages you speculate they speak, neither of you making the mistake of thinking that raising your voices will cause greater understanding or any understanding at all.  The sense of order you notice has ties to your ability to recognize them and they, for their part, showing no immediate wish to come tumbling down upon you, nor you, wishing to combine them into some conglomerate with which to pave dirt and crushed rocks who have no say in the matter.  

For the moment, you are elementals, waiting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quit Fooling Around

Many of us who pursue the writing path can point to the handful of men and women who nudged us on our way, caused us to believe we, too, could make out way from what we wrote.  However nice it may be to thank parents and other relatives, or teachers who encouraged us to pursue what were then called "our gifts," these are not the individuals you refer to as the nudgers.

These men and women were the productive writers of our youth, some quite literary, others not literary in the least.  Some of them had notable styles and a seeming gift for the deployment of language.  Others had prose more reminiscent of what our own first efforts would become when we learned to drive a motor vehicle.  Nevertheless, these were the individuals who caused us to think we, too, should try our hand at storytelling.  And we did.

Some of these writers were still cranking out the titles during our lifetime.  One of these, in large measure forgotten now, checked out at about the time your own interest in storytelling began.  His characters were dogs, all of a breed you would not consider now under any circumstances.  At the time of reading Albert Payson Terhune's novels, the collie seemed to embody dogness.  When you'd gone through all his titles,  your spirits sank because there were no more possibilities.

This same dynamic sent you to libraries, eager to find new authors to read, ever hopeful of finding writers still living, who were producing the equivalent of a new book every year or so.

When you got into the world of publishing, particularly the massmarket side, you saw how the company you worked for and its rival, to whom you once sold paperback rights of hardcover books you'd published, fought over rights to writers such as Agatha Christie. "Money in the bank," your paperback publisher told you.  "We watch those copyrights like a hawk, then we pounce with peremptory bids."

Fred Klein, Sales Manager at what was then the rival, Bantam Books, said in essence the same thing.  "Ka-ching,"  he said.  "The language of the happy cash register."

In your life time, a number of prolific writers have taken on interns as partners, sharing by-lines and considerable royalties.  A pal who also writes text books has taken on such an assistant, and not to forget Gayle Lynds, an old pal you once published in a literary journal, getting assignments to flesh out Robert Ludlum plots before moving off on her own to write her own best sellers (and give you a generous blurb on your Fiction Writers' Handbook).

The latest, newest twist comes from the Irtish writer and one-time Mann-Booker Prize winner, John Banville, prolific enough to use a pseudonym for a series of mystery novels featuring a detective of his own invention.  This fact alerted Banville's literary agent, who happens to be the literary executor for the late, moody-but-great mystery writer, Raymond Chandler.  What a coincidence that Banville has begun writing novels featuring Raymond Chandler's private detective, Philip Marlowe.

Which brings you to regard the literary tradition of quiting, which has nothing to do with leaving, everything to do with answering, as in unrequited love being a one-way street, love not returned.  Writers frequently borrow themes and characters, in a real sense having a dialogue, sometimes across generations, with another writer.  Shakespeare quits Chaucer with his own version of Troilus and Cressida.  So does Raymond Chandler quit Joseph Conrad by naming his private detective after Marlowe, the narrator of Conrad's most famous novel, The Heart of Darkness.

One of your favorites of the Henry James novels, The Ambassadors, is quitted by Cynthia Ozick in her novel, Foreign Bodies.  The closest thing you can think of to a quitting you'd like to do, was written by a writer you have admired and more or less tucked away, forgotten, Vance Bourjaily, its title, Now Playing at Canterbury.  An ensemble cast of characters is putting on a new, American opera at a Midwestern university.  Each of the cast is reminded of or tells a story.  

This is a work you must read again, because you, in your admiration for Chaucer, wish to do a short-story version of The Canterbury Tales.    You've played with this notion for some time, beginning with an actor named Matthew Bender, who is returning home to Santa Barbara from a lead role in an off-Broadway version of Troilus and Cressida, thus quitting The Odyssey and, while you're at it, quitting James Joyce's quitting of The Odyssey with his Ulysses.  You've done some of the Bender stories.  Now, you need to live long enough to take a run at the Chaucer, which might be in fact the thing you've been waiting for.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Music, to Whose Ears?

You have never demonstrated any particular skill with numbers.  You could sit in the same classroom with them, listen to individuals who, for the most part, you enjoyed, talking about numbers as though revealing family secrets or telling you about combinations and formulas you ought to know.

These individuals who, for the most part, you enjoyed, without exception reached a point in your relationship with them when they expected you to settle disputes or conundrums related to numbers.  That is to say, they expected you to solve problems calculated to demonstrate your understanding of the enormous potential for nuance between numbers, their use, and the outcomes of their use.

Take Jim and John, for instance.  They live in different parts of the city and wish to meet downtown.  When should each one leave for the meeting without causing the other to wait?  Stuff like that.  And what about the these same two dudes being out on a lake fishing, at least half an hour from the dock,when one of them notices a leak in the boat.  If the boat is taking on two quarts of water a minute, how long will it be before the boat sinks?  And what about their chances if one of them uses the bait bucket to bail water?

You could never bring yourself to care much for these individuals, or their problems about how many pizzas they needed to feed twenty-three persons without any left-over slices?   

Thanks to your father's interest in such things, you learned about measurements of distance you'd seen no previous reason to feel concerned about.  You'd worked your own way through the number of yards in a quarter mile, a half mile, three quarters of a mile, and a mile itself, all this because you hoped to demonstrate some skills in running these distances.

You became intrigued by a unit of measurement called the furlong, which is an eighth of a mile or two hundred twenty yards.  You noticed that most of the thoroughbred racing horses ran distances measured in furlongs.  Thanks to occasional instructions from your father and your growing interest in listening to radio broadcasts from Hollywood Park and the Santa Anita Race Track, narrated or called by one Joe Hernandez, you had a growing sense of which were effective times for horses to cover distances expressed in furlongs.  

You also began, as boys do, to appreciate the number of times baseball players were able to hit baseballs with bats to the point where they were not immediately fielded and thus, in accordance with rules of the game of baseball, considered various types of hits, with various consequences attached to them.

Such horse racing and baseball demonstrations of your familiarity with numbers did not have positive influence on the otherwise agreeable men and women who urged you to see numbers in entirely different relationships

To put the matter in another perspective, the one time you did appear to demonstrate a skill set with numbers was the time a teacher told you how creative your answers were, although they showed no recognition of the way in which most people arrived at answers.

Somewhere along the way, you'd been exposed to the theory that individuals who had skills in music tended to be good at math.  You had no yearning to be good at math, but you did wish to have musical skills.

You spent a good deal of time with various primitive instruments, such as a dime store kazoo, your own equivalent of a cigar box banjo, and a pocket comb and a sheet of tissue paper, doing your best to demonstrate enough skill to convince your parents to support your musical learning.  You did impress your sister, but not in the way you'd hoped.

You impressed your sister and parents in more positive ways through your skills with a Duncan yo-you.  Some of the model airplanes you built actually flew, and you seemed to be able to build small radios that worked without electricity, vacuum tubes, or batteries.  Oddly enough, you were able to identify various musical compositions after hearing scant opening chords, to the growing bafflement of Mrs. Lovejoy, your sister's piano teacher, whom you pleaded with your parents to extend to you as well.

For a number of years during your immersion in scholarly book publishing, you discovered a use for your old Nemesis, geometry, and for uses of more or less simple arithmetic that gave you great satisfaction.  Designing the interior of a book became every bit as meaningful and significant to you as recognizing from a manuscript or sample chapters the text of a worthwhile project.  Design of books is, in some ways, Getting things to fit and look as if they were intended to fit; also to present particular information in an appealing and accessible way.

While you were coming to terms with numbers and some, but by no means all, of the philosophies relating to them, you were coming to terms with yourself and with words, not to forget the presentation of words in appealing and accessible ways.

Sometimes, when you hear individuals speaking a language which remains a stranger to your ears, you recall conversations with mathematicians and with musicians and with polyglot speakers of languages.  Listening to them, you hear what is among the purest of music to you; the sounds of ideas and concepts, tumbling along in some structure.

If numbers could talk, would they sound like music?

When you listen to music, you try to listen for numbers.  

When you're at a poetry slam or the reading at a new book signing, you listen to the music of ideas, swirling and beckoning.  And all is well.  At least, as much as you can understand of it is.